Stewpot: Coping with the pandemic

Stewpot struggles during COVID

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - No doubt, the coronavirus pandemic has put a lot of stress on everyone, even those whose mission is to help people in need.

But, for the men and women of Stewpot Community Services, these trying times are only making them more determined to serve.

At the Opportunity Center, Stewpot’s philosophy is to lend a hand up and not a hand out. There are tools, like computers, to aide in job searches, for example. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, though, it takes a lot more to accomplish that mission now. Kristy Burnett is director of Stewpot’s Opportunity Center. She said CDC guidelines on social distancing have created an overflow from other shelters.

Burnett said, ” So, normally we are only a day shelter. We’re only open from 6am until two pm and then in the winter we are open on the really cold nights, 35-degrees or below, but since November 1st, we’ve been open everyday and also every night and that will continue until March 31st, so we’re open every single night because there are just no beds for people to sleep in and they’re outside, so we decided, collectively to help take some of the weight off the other people that do that.”

Stewpot’s offerings have grown since it began back in 1992, to include much more than a hot meal for the homeless. There is a Children’s Program, Clothing Closet, Women’s services and Community Kitchen, just to name a few, but this may be one of the toughest years for the non-profit, not only because of the pandemic.

Kristy Burnett said, ”Stewpot itself has been broken into. Our teen and children’s program have been broken into countless times, over and over and over again. Donations have been stolen. Things that they use for the children, who they help virtually, they’ve been stolen, so they have had a really, really tough time.”

And then there is a staffing issue said Executive Director Jill Buckley.

”It’s requiring more of our staff than it used to, so with about the same number of people who are coming through our shelters and so a lot of it, some of it, food, why, it’s just more people, but we’ve also restricted volunteer engagement out of abundance of caution both the volunteers and for our community that needs us and is here on a daily basis, so we’re doing more with fewer people.” said Rev. Buckley.

Kristy Burnett said, ”We’re tired. Instead of just working 12 hour days, we’re working 24 hours and we’re a staff of five, so it’s lots more hours but we also have gotten lots more help with donations. We have people that cook all of our meals and bring them in, so the people that support us have really come through to help us.”

Still there are needs to keep the giving....going:

Rev. Jill Buckley said, ”Some of the main things that we need on an ongoing basis are food for our food pantry, so anything that you might buy on a regular basis at the grocery store for our shelters, mainly we just need toiletry items, blankets, towels, things like that so that, we’re doing a lot of laundry, so also laundry detergent and cleaning supplies.”

To be clear, no one at Stewpot is complaining; just the opposite said Reverend Buckley.

She said, ”Stewpot is embodiment of all your neighbors wanting you to have the resources that you need. That is why we’re here. And we’re trying to show up everyday with the same commitment and compassion we had before the pandemic started and I have to say, our Stewpot staff have just done it brilliantly and I give a shout out to them for all the hard work they have done, since the beginning, but I really would just say to anyone who’s feeling like they’re just at kinda their limit, Stewpot is here to help and so there’s something we can do, we just encourage people to reach out.”

So, in this season of giving, you may consider giving to Stewpot Community Services. It’s a gift that keeps on giving...long after Christmas.

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